WASHINGTON – Today, PFT President Jerry T. Jordan joined Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), Chairman Bobby Scott (VA-03), AFT President Randi Weingarten, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, Representative Jahana Hayes (CT-05), and Representative Donald Norcross (NJ-01) to urge immediate action on a school construction initiative as part of a federal infrastructure package.
Following the event, Jordan issued the following statement:
“I was honored to join Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Scott at today’s event. Philadelphia’s facilities crisis is once again serving as a national example of the absolute urgency for infrastructure investment from all levels of government. The facilities package discussed by Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Scott just make sense– we know the need is there, and we know there is always money for what we, as a society, prioritize.”
At the press conference, Jordan made the following remarks:
Good afternoon, I’m Jerry Jordan, president of the nearly 13,000 member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. I’m honored to be here today, and I thank Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Scott for the opportunity, as well as, of course, my partners in labor, Randi and Lily.
I’m here today because the lives of my members and the children we serve are at risk, and in fact, children and educators are literally getting poisoned in the places where they learn and work each day.
I’m here today because in 2016, SEIU member Chris Trakimas was fatally injured in a boiler explosion at Philadelphia’s FS Edmonds School. I’m here today because in May 2017, Philadelphia fourth-grader Chelsea Mungo wrote to her State Senator and told him that being in her dilapidated school building felt like being in prison or a junkyard. I’m here today because in September 2017, first-grader Dean Pagan, in his quest to keep his desk tidy at his Philadelphia school, ate the lead paint chips that sprinkled down, and was permanently affected by lead poisoning. I’m here today because just this past August, one of our beloved PFT members, 28-year veteran teacher Lea DiRusso, was forced into early retirement after receiving a devastating mesothelioma diagnosis, quite likely brought on by having taught her entire career in classrooms with documented damaged asbestos.
And if all that weren’t enough, I’m here today because just this school year alone, ten Philadelphia public schools have been shuttered due to damaged asbestos, and countless others have been affected by areas of isolated damage. Quite frankly, I’m here because I’m disgusted. Disgusted by the callous disregard those in power have for the children and educators who work so hard every day.
In Philadelphia, our union has led the charge in not only identifying and documenting the problems, but also in putting forth real solutions. Our union established the Fund Our Facilities Coalition, now more than 60 members strong, to coalesce around a very simple truth: our children and the educators who serve them must have schools that are safe, healthy, and free from environmental toxins like lead, asbestos, and mold. From that very simple truth, our Coalition has developed and advocated for the process changes and the funding that is so desperately needed.
The congressional infrastructure package is one of these solutions. I applaud the leaders here today, and I especially want to note that in my home city, Congressman Brendan Boyle has been a staunch ally in this fight, and he has been an integral member of our Facilities Coalition.
I cannot imagine a single member of congress or occupant of the White House, regardless of political party, who would possibly think that in 2020, it is anything other than an egregious breach of human rights that any child or educator in any zip code should have to endure conditions in their school building that could quite literally cost them their life.
For Chris, for Chelsea, for Dean, for Lea, and for the thousands of educators and students affected each and every day by toxic school conditions, I hope that the time is now for us to once and for all, reckon with our abject and astounding societal failure. The question before us is one of political will.